WIENER WERKSTÄTTE BLOCK-PRINTED SILK DRESS FABRICS
BAHIA BY JULIUS ZIMPEL, ca. 1925
SAMTENTE BY LOTTE FRÖMEL-FOCHLER,
LISZT BY DAGOBERT PECHE, ca. 1911–13
In the overarching spirit of gesamtkunstwerk, members of the Wiener Werkstätte—the avant-garde Viennese artisans collective founded in 1903—were wholly involved in each aspect of their creations. Because the decorative schemes of Wiener Werkstätte interiors often incorporated impressive quantities of boldly patterned fabrics, new impetus was given to in-house production. Though woven, upholstery-weight fabrics and carpets were produced by Viennese firm Backhausen & Söhne for the Wiener Werkstätte since its inception, the collective sought different types of patterned materials for fashion and furnishing purposes and began their own experimentations with block-printed textiles around 1910.
The fashion press of the day called special attention to the Wiener Werkstätte’s printed silks. These three rare examples represent a small cross section of the collective’s output. Each artist’s design is economical in terms of color and pattern repeat—undoubtedly by artistic choice, and partially because of the technical specifications of wood-block printing. Julius Zimpel (1896–1925) studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna from 1911 to 1916. Zimpel’s evocatively titled Bahia, with its thatched pattern in tropical hues of bronze, magenta, coral, and amethyst, hints at foreign inspiration and the early twentieth-century vogue for primitivism. Lotte Frömel-Fochler (1884–?), also a student at the Kunstgewerbeschule, designed numerous textiles for the group from 1910 on; her work also included fashion accessories, lace and embroidery. Glossy satin provides a sensual surface for this printing of Samtente, her exotic composition of swaying grasses interspersed with clusters of jewel-toned lotus umbels. Perhaps the most versatile and commercially successful of all Wiener Werkstätte designers, Dagobert Peche (1886–1923) worked prolifically in textiles, leaving an archive of almost three thousand designs. Peche is known for his sophisticated, subtle color sense, as evidenced here in this early design. Liszt features a recurring motif from the artist’s repertoire: tufts of lancet-shaped leaves bundled into crowns. Shaded ombré effects were another hallmark of Peche’s work—here, the chromatically stacked stripes, graduated from black to palest gray, provide a neutral yet visually engaging backdrop for the raspberry-pink flourishes, while diagonally banded ombré columns define the rows. Within this rhythmic repetition, Liszt melds structure with exuberance.
Coincidental with the establishment of the textile division was the birth of Weiner Werkstätte fashions. Founded in 1911, the fashion department—in conjunction with textile production—would have far-reaching effects on contemporary European couturiers such as Paul Poiret. Sensing the need to protect their innovative merchandise from piracy, a Wiener Werkstätte trademark valid for ‘Articles of Clothing, Textiles and Millinery’ was officially registered in November 1913.
A furnishing-weight version of Samtente, used to cover a settee in a 1911 Josef Hoffman-designed interior, is illustrated in Angela Völker, Textiles of the Wiener Werkstätte 1910-1932 (1994), p. 39.